On the eve of the Cell C South African Women’s Open at San Lameer Golf Club, American Cheyenne Woods and the country’s leading professionals embraced the 15-strong amateur line-up at the international showcase on the Hibiscus Coast.

“I think it’s a fantastic initiative to include amateurs in such a flagship event,” Woods said.

“I think it will really inspire to girls to be inside the ropes with their idols, instead of watching from outside the ropes. I never got the chance to play with the pros as an amateur and it is something I really regret.”

Woods enjoyed the opportunity to shoot the breeze with three of South Africa’s rising stars ahead of the pro-am on Wednesday.

The 2014 VOLVIK RACV Ladies Masters winner dished out some advice to reigning Sanlam SA Women’s Amateur champion Ivanna Samu, recent Gauteng North Junior Open winner Kaleigh Telfer and Port Shepston’s Lizzie Currie ahead of their debut.

“Don’t let the big stage intimidate you,” Woods said. “Try to enjoy this moment. This is a great opportunity for you to learn and absorb and to come away with amazing experience.”

South Africa’s latest Ladies European Tour winner, Connie Chen, applauded the Women’s PGA of South Africa and the promoters for extending invitations to the amateurs.

“The only way to improve is through competition and when you play with the pros, their experience rubs off on you,” the Tenerife Open de España champion said.

“When I reached the top of the amateur rankings, we didn’t have an SA Women’s Open or a Tour and I wish I had this opportunity. The amateurs playing this week are all going benefit from this week, even if they miss don’t make the weekend.”

It has been 10 years since Ashleigh Simon became the first amateur to lift the SA Women’s Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

The amateur contenders flocked to Simon during the players’ welcome function on Tuesday, and the two-time winner patiently answered all their questions.

“I remember how nervous I was at my first SA Women’s Open was, but these girls are so excited and their enthusiasm was infectious,” said Simon.

“I think Womens Golf South Africa should be commended for giving the girls the opportunity to play in the SA Women’s Open and on the Sunshine Ladies Tour.

“Competing in this environment will help the girls to decide if turning pro is really what they want. It gave me a sense of what to expect and it exposed my strength and weaknesses. Whatever happens, they should just go out there and enjoy the experience.”

South Africa’s top export, Lee-Anne Pace, believes giving the amateurs a start in pro events will further grow the game.

“The growth of the Cell C SA Women’s Open has been phenomenal and the launch of the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies has marked a rebirth for South African women’s golf,” the reigning Investec Cup for Ladies Champion said.

“The support of the sponsors helps us to grow the game among women in South Africa and that should be our biggest priority.

“I think that giving the amateurs the opportunity to see what the future could hold, we inspire them to stay in the game, either as amateurs or pros. We also inspire a whole new generation who come out to support us when they see their peers competing with us.

“There is a wave of amateurs waiting in the wings and many more coming through the junior ranks and the amateurs competing here this week will be their real inspiration.”